BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Northwestern played 38-plus winning minutes at Assembly Hall.
The Wildcats (6-2, 0-1 Big Ten) didn’t do that for the full 40, though, and Indiana (6-2, 1-0) prevailed 68-66 in a game that came down to the wire. With a lead in the last two minutes, and the game tied in the final 40 seconds, Northwestern couldn’t close the deal. A Romeo Langford floater with 35.5 seconds to play all but sealed the Wildcats’ fate.
Inexplicably, Northwestern didn’t foul down by two with just over 30 seconds left, leaving Justin Smith open for an easy lay-up. Vic Law banked in a three on the ensuing possession with just over 3 seconds left, but it was too little, too late. Ryan Taylor missed a potential game-winning shot from just inside half-court as time expired.
Dererk Pardon did all he could to will Northwestern past the finish line, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the one the best efforts of his career. Chris Collins’s team repeatedly got scores to stay in the game late, but they needed one more.
Northwestern got off to a shaky start offensively, in large part due to turnovers. The Wildcats were getting good looks and shooting well, but the turnovers offset that to an extent. After a Miller Kopp turnover and Langford dunk on the other end, the Hoosiers led 9-4 at the under-16 timeout.
The offense steadied, though, and Pardon led the way. With a combination of spin moves, hook shots and hesitations in the paint, Pardon bullied his way to 12 first half points on 5-of-5 shooting, including several easy dunks.
On the wing, Ryan Taylor, Vic Law and A.J. Turner shot well in the first 20 minutes, combining for 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
On the other end, Langford proved why he’s one of the most highly-touted freshman in the country. He poured in 20 easy points, and looked smooth throughout. Law and Anthony Gaines took turns guarding him, and they did a decent job, but Langford is a tough matchup.
Northwestern shot 57 percent in the first half, but limped into halftime. The Hoosiers closed the first half by making five of their final seven shots, while the Wildcats missed their last four. After a back and forth half in which Northwestern led for stretches, Indiana led 37-33 at the break.
The Wildcats re-took the lead for a stretch in the second half on the backs of three-straight makes and holding IU to a 3-plus minute field goal drought, and the half continued to go back-and-forth. Both teams cooled off shooting the ball in the second half; the teams combined to go 3-of-13 from deep in the second half. At a key juncture with the game tight, Indiana missed four consecutive free throws. Northwestern was just 2-of-10 from three after going 3-of-7 in the first half.
Northwestern is beginning to emerge as the stout defensive team we expected to see coming into the season. With Gaines’s ability to guard bigger players, NU can guard, and that was on full display against an explosive IU team.
Still, this is a tough loss for Northwestern. This would’ve been a key early-season conference road win, and NU had a great opportunity to get it.